Insomniacs Unite

Our next meeting is tomorrow morning at 1:30am Pacific Time, mark your calendar.

Last night’s agenda:

2am: Wake up hearing a strange noise. Realize you smell the essence of skunk and wonder if the garage door was left open. Listen for strange noises for a few more minutes.

2:08am: Tell yourself it’s nothing and try to go back to sleep.

2:10am: Realize that nice tune in the back of your head is Maroon 5. Congratulate yourself on good taste in music.

2:12am: Recall that a critical task was left undone and due at 6am. Reassure yourself the world will not stop spinning if you didn’t post a blog. No, we aren’t’ getting up right now and doing it.

2:20am: Bladder insists that we can’t wait until morning. Check the garage door. Sneak into kitchen for a drink. Your house is creepy in the dark.

2:24am: WHO ARE THESE BARBARIANS? The sink is full of dirty dishes. You cleaned this place before you went to bed. You live in a barn. Go back to bed.

2:46am: Practice dramatic yawning in attempt to force oxygen into sleep part of brain. Stretch extremities. Roll over.

3:08am: Hubby still snoring. Contemplate the droopy bags, dark rings, and the wrinkles I’m actively creating under my eyes. Mentally inventory makeup drawer for solutions. Don’t forget to add a new mascara to the shopping list.

3:24am: Decide I need to be a better parent. I should help the boys with their college planning. When was the last time I took a daughter for coffee? Am I supportive enough? Give them enough space? Give them enough time? My poor babies.

3:39am: Try not to get mad. Lots of people aren’t sleeping right now. Probably the President. For sure moms with newborns. You don’t see them getting upset, do you? Pound pillows into proper sleeping shapes.

3:48am: The song is so appropriate. So right for right now. Explains everything. You might as well watch the whole cartoon in your head. We have time. You got yours and I got mine.

3:52: It’s such a cozy bed. Snuggly, really. All is well. And if it isn’t, well, there’s always tomorrow. We’ll have coffee. Cooooofffffffeeeeeee……

4:01am: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The Imperiled Ocean Winner!

The Imperiled Ocean by ocean journalist Laura Trethewey is a deeply reported work of narrative journalism that follows people as they head out to sea. What they discover holds inspiring and dire implications for the life of the ocean — and for all of us back on land. Battles are fought, fortunes made, lives lost, and the ocean approaches an uncertain future.

Congratulations to Missy from Illinois, the winner of Laura’s freshly minted and personally autographed book! These smart and thought-provoking stories are worth sitting down and thoroughly ingesting. Here is an excerpt from her piece, Cleaning the Coast.

Thank you, Laura, for an exploration of the earth’s last wild frontier, and the opportunity to get to know it – and you – better.

A worn piece of plastic drifted on the ocean over a thousand miles from civilization. A sailboat approached with a 30-year-old woman on board. She leaned out over the gunwale to pick the plastic from the surface. Except she couldn’t: long, dangling seaweed roped the plastic to the water. She reeled up the weed, hand over hand; it stretched deeper and deeper into the depths. Down below, she saw fish darting between the fronds.

As Chloé Dubois sailed farther into a slowly spinning gyre of plastic in the largest ocean on Earth, she experienced this scene again and again. It was 2015, and Chloé and her team at the nonprofit Ocean Legacy had sailed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to collect microplastic samples for The Ocean Cleanup, another plastic-pollution nonprofit.

Using samples collected by 37 boats, Chloé’s included, that trawled a 3.5-million-square-kilometer swath of the Pacific, Ocean Cleanup hoped to create the first high-resolution map of ocean plastic. Chloé remembers hauling up the water-sampling trawler and peeking in at its contents on deck, and discovering all manner of marine stowaways in the detritus. How did you get here? she wondered as she picked up a tiny crab clinging to a bottle cap in the middle of the formidable ocean. Drifting by the boat, she saw buoys covered with gooseneck barnacles. Ocean-knotted islands of rope that hid masses of organisms.

“On the news, there’s this plastic island in the middle of the ocean that’s the size of Texas, and that’s pretty much what people know unless they go out there and experience it for themselves,” she said. Instead of a floating island of waste, as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is so often portrayed, she encountered more of a drifting slurry. The pollution came in all shapes and stages of degradation, from microscopic particles and fibers, to toothbrushes, bottles and great tangles of fishing nets and lines.

She witnessed, too, how nature worked with the plastic intruders. In the ocean, bacteria and algae quickly glom onto any floating feature they can find, drawn to the nutrients that collect there. More and larger animals, like barnacles and tubeworms, follow suit, fastening themselves to the marine debris. How productive of the ocean to use the plastic to build tiny ecosystems out on a vast desert of salt water, where so little life thrives in comparison to coastal waters.

The Garbage Patch was not a dead zone at all, she realized, but a world teeming with life.

Since she was 17 years old, Chloé has been involved in the environmental movement. In her early twenties, she began collecting plastic from beaches and she’s now cleaned shorelines across Mexico, Alaska, Costa Rica, Panama, and Canada. When she was 29, she co-founded the nonprofit Ocean Legacy, and she has become obsessed with cleaning plastic from the environment. She knows the names, acronyms, and resin codes of the plastic pantheon like they’re her children.

For a moment, Chloé hesitated before destroying the little crab’s home, this plastic piece of garbage that it had found and colonized and survived on against all the odds. Rationally, she knew that the crab’s plastic bottle cap was on its way to becoming a toxic pill. Plastic is a master at teasing out toxins from the ocean, sucking floating chemicals from the water column and condensing them into ever more hazardous forms. Industrial metals, pesticides, fertilizers, plastic softeners, and flame retardants can dissolve in water or be hydrophobic, meaning they want out of the water fast. Plastic already contains some of the chemical contaminants found in water, and that makes certain types of plastic naturally attractive hosts to wayward chemicals. A smaller animal might then ingest that poisoned plastic item, covered in slimy nutrients and pollutants, like PCBs, that have been banned on land for decades but are still drifting out in the ocean. A larger animal will then eat this animal, and up the food chain the plastic goes, magnifying its toxicity as it jumps to each new animal.

Chloé knew all this. She had seen the damage firsthand, yet destroying an animal’s home still gave her pause.

Then she plunged her hands in and removed all the plastic she could find, no matter how much life clung to it. The team built a home for displaced crabs in a glass tank on deck.

When they had sailed outside the center of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Chloé dove off the boat and into the sea. When she climbed back on board, tiny pellets of plastic covered her skin. After a month and a half sailing across the Pacific, her sailboat returned to land with 154 water samples hauled up from across the ocean. Every single one contained plastic.

Not all plastic is a problem. Much of it helps us and is integrated into every step of human life from birth to death. As I write this, I tap away on computer keys made of plastic, scroll through webpages on a mouse made of plastic, and peer through glasses rimmed with plastic. It’s the cheap, omnipresent plastic that lasts hundreds of years but is built to throw away the second after we use it that’s a big problem, perhaps one of the biggest for the ocean.

For almost as long as industrial plastic production has existed, we’ve known that plastic was going in the ocean. In the 1970s, a team of researchers sampling water in the sluggish Sargasso Sea reported that tiny plastic fragments were floating on the surface. During a 1997 yacht race from Los Angeles to Honolulu, a sailing scientist named Charles Moore passed through a remote stretch of Pacific Ocean and found himself surrounded by plastic debris in all directions. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, as it was later called, grabbed the world’s attention.

Suddenly there was a tangible place where all our waste was going, just outside the limits of our imagination.

The sea is a vast, deep, mutable force that covers 71 percent of the Earth. Plastic is small, ubiquitous, and breaks into ever-smaller pieces. When these two meet, they marry: a horrible collision between the synthetic and the natural.

A trawl sample collected from the Great Pacific Gyre by Ocean Legacy.

Given enough time, the ocean has the ability to spread plastic to the most remote reaches of the planet. Today, plastic is drifting in the waters off Antarctica. Plastic comes down in rain. Plastic fibers pass through the filter-feeding valves of oysters. Not long ago, Japan’s Deep-sea Debris Database reported finding a fully intact plastic bag in the Mariana Trench, the deepest underwater trough in the world.

We still don’t know exactly how much plastic is going into the ocean. One study, published in Science in February 2015, conservatively estimates that eight million metric tons of plastic is entering the ocean each year from municipal solid waste streams on land. That is 200 times higher than what had last been calculated in 1975 based on plastic pollution entering the ocean from maritime activities, and more than 2,000 times higher than what had been estimated from floating debris samples.

In that 2015 study in Science, environmental engineer Jenna Jemback and her co-authors argue that barring any major changes, plastic going into the ocean will multiply by a factor of 10 in 2025. That’s 80 million metric tons of plastic dumped in the ocean each year.

Despite the startling numbers of waste already in the ocean, our love of plastic endures. Plastic production is growing and expanding right along with plastic demand. By 2030, our need for plastic is expected to double.

The financial guru Warren Buffett once compared a stock market crash to the tide going out: you find out who’s been swimming naked all along. During the 2008 financial crisis, we discovered that big banks can fail. For centuries, we’ve believed the same of the ocean: that it was simply too big to fail. But an encroaching movement of threats, such as a warming ocean, overfishing, and pollution, could change that in the not-too-distant future.

If we could see beneath the surface, what would we find at the bottom of the sea? Perhaps millions of tons of plastic lying undisturbed, except for the bottom-dwellers that nibble at the nutrients collecting on it. Perhaps this evidence of the world’s waste will eventually become a layer of sediment pressed between rock layers: the Plastic Era, a fitting symbol of human-made change, baked into the Earth’s crust.

Author Giveaway, The Imperiled Ocean

Laura Trethewey sits across the folding table from me on bright San Diego Tuesday mornings, but we’re not supposed to talk to each other. The writing room is pretty much like sitting in detention and being forced to write a three page essay on dust bunnies before the bell rings. We swing between frantic typing and staring in frozen silence at our screens – or out the window – and this is what we do for fun.

It works.

All of us writers come and go in anonymity here unless we make it a point to step out for a ten minute break. On one of these jaunts between our laptops and the coffee place down the way, I discovered that Laura was working on nonfiction essays about the ocean. And she’s been working on them for a while. When you meet other writers, it’s polite to ask about their projects, but I’ve found that sometimes the best stories are the writers themselves. Laura’s been on a lot of travels and adventures, and writing them down for magazines and newspapers has recently culminated in her first book, The Imperiled Ocean. Congratulations, Laura!

Laura is a native Canuck who has also lived in Scotland but now lives here. Because, San Diego. You can read all about her on her website, but her projects, like this video, which she wrote, researched, and produced, will give you an idea of her passion for all things ocean.

Hubby and I attended her book launch last month. We sat in the cozy downtown bookstore, listening to her broad perspective on the relationship between people and the ocean. “I’m very curious,” she said, “about the ways that people view and use the water. I’m used to thinking about traveling over water, by boat for example, but I hope this book helps people think about the ocean from many other angles.” As these amazing essays cover topics from refugees to plastic pollution to Hollywood, I’d say Laura did just that.

On a life raft in the Mediterranean, a teenager from Ghana wonders whether he will reach Europe alive, and if he does, whether he will be allowed to stay. In the North Atlantic, a young chef disappears from a cruise ship, leaving a mystery for his friends and family to solve. A water-squatting community battles eviction from a harbor in a Pacific Northwest town, raising the question of who owns the water. In this exploration of the earth’s last wild frontier, I follow seven true stories of the ocean undergoing tremendous change as it faces an uncertain future.

To win an awesome autographed copy of her new book, enter a comment in the box below. Entries will be accepted through Sunday the 26th at midnight and the winner will be announced next week on the 28th! Addresses accepted from anywhere in the world that a book can be mailed.

Laura Trethewey reporting from the Dogpatch, an off-grid boating community fighting eviction from the harbor of Ladysmith, British Columbia.

Top Five Faves from 2019

I can’t believe it. 2019 is rolling to a close. I hope you have each decided on a creative way to ring in the fresh 2020. Perhaps with a thankful list of all the little things that brought you joy, perhaps with a sigh of relief that some things are now behind you. Or perhaps like a certain sister-in-law, determined to do a Polar Bear Plunge on the first fresh new year morning with a leap into the salty Pacific. To each her own.

Taking a peek at my website, I can see that I tried a variety of new things this year and I want to encourage you to spread your own wings, too. It’s okay to knock on doors, just to see who opens them. Bring a couple of girlfriends along, in case it’s a trap full of Imperial Stormtroopers, but most of the time, it’s just a group of Ewoks and a Baby Yoda or two. (What if there’s more than one? EEK!)

Since you’re staying up past your bedtime tonight anyway, here’s the countdown of our Top Five Blogs of 2019 to read.

5. The Blues is about depression, what feels like, how it works, and that you are loved.

4. Eldercare Where? is about transitioning through our different life stages and giving particular thought to our elders’ circumstances.

3. Pie Giveaway Time! was a fun blog to run and I’m planning a lot of giveaways next year! Stay tuned!

2. Vaping, School, and Your Kid is as labeled and full of links and photos. Parenting is not for sissies.

1. Stalked by the Empty Nest was the opener for 2019 and contains all the emotions of change.

I wish you joy and courage. I hope you do hard things and grow stronger from them. I want you to carry your laughter into battle because we are all in this together and I need to hear your giggles beside me.

Love your people, lend a hand, nourish yourself with all good things. May your light rise and brightly glow into the new year.

Sweet as Pie Winner

Congrats to our Pie-in-a-Jar Giveaway drawing winner! Mark Ishman will be enjoying a personal sized Five-Spice Pear-Apple Pie made by “The Peace of Pie” bloggess, Jessica Gelineau. A huge ‘Thank You!’, Jess, for helping us kick off the holidays with sweetness and fun. And thank you to everyone who played along, we’ll do it again soon!

Jess has been years working her way through Ken Haedrich’s pie book and savoring every bite. For the rest of us longing to sample this recipe, we include it here with Jess’ notes sprinkled throughout.

And if you just can’t get enough, visit Ken Haedrich’s Pie Academy website to access how-to videos, recipes, and all of his books. Happy Baking!

Crust: Ken Haedrich’s Basic Flaky Pie Pastry

Single Crust:

Cut up 1/2 stick of cold unsalted butter into small pieces and set aside. Measure out 1/4 cup of cold vegetable shortening and set aside.

Combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Toss well, by hand, to mix. Scatter the butter pieces over the dry ingredients and toss to mix. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until it is broken into pieces the size of small peas.

Add the shortening and pieces and continue to rub in until the fat is all in small pieces and very much incorporated into the dry ingredients.

Fill the 1/4 cup you were using for shortening with cold water. Sprinkle half of the water over the mixture. Toss well with a fork to dampen the mixture.

Add the remaining water, 1 1/2 to 2 tbs. at a time, and continue to toss and mix, pulling the mixture up from the bottom of the bowl on the upstroke and gently pressing down on the downstroke. Add a little more water, 1 tsp at a time, if necessary, until the dough can be packed together in a ball.

Once it is packable, make a ball and press down to flatten it somewhat into a thick disk. Wrap the pastry (I use a piece of wax paper and fold all the corners under) and refrigerate until firm enough to roll.

Filling:
3 and 1/2 cups peeled, cored, and sliced Granny Smith, Cortland, Northern Spy, or other apples
3 and 1/2 cups cored and sliced ripe pears, peeled or unpeeled
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
Cornmeal Streusel Topping:
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1. If you haven’t already, prepare the pastry and refrigerate until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour.
2. On a sheet of lightly floured waxed paper, roll the pastry into a 13-inch circle with a floured rolling pin. Invert the pastry over a 9 1/2 inch deep-dish pie pan, center, and peel off the paper. Tuck the pastry into the pan, without stretching it, and sculpt the edge into an upstanding ridge. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
3. Combine the apples, pears, lemon zest, lemon juice, orange juice, and 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar in a large bowl. Set aside for 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
4. Mix together the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, the cornstarch, and five-spice powder in a small bowl. Stir the mixture into the fruit. Turn the filling into the chilled pie shell and smooth the filling with your hands to even it out. Place the pie on the center oven rack and bake for 30 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, make the topping. Put the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse several times to mix. Scatter the butter over the mixture and pulse until it resembles fine crumbs. Empty the crumbs into a medium-size bowl and rub them between your fingers to make large, buttery crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.
6. Remove the pie from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 375 F. Carefully dump the crumbs in the center of the pie, spreading them evenly over the surface with your hands. Tamp them down lightly. Return the pie to the oven, placing it so that the part that faced the back of the oven now faces forward. Just in case, slide a large aluminum foil-lined baking sheet onto the rack below to catch any spills. Continue to bake until the juices bubble thickly around the edge, another 30 minutes.
7. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

In the beginning…

You can almost smell it

Made by hand

Crumble topping

Happy ending!

Pie Giveaway Time!

Thank you everyone for putting up with me last month. NaNoWriMo is no small thing.

To reward your patience, and to celebrate THE END, we’re having a drawing for a giveaway! Pie eating contest Pie throwing contest Pie-in-a-Jar Gifting is a great way to kick off the month of December, and it’s so much better than Figgy Pudding.

By “we”, I mean a collaboration with my favorite pie baker, Jessica Gelineau. Her luscious pie blog, “The Peace of Pie“, has kept me company for years. The stunning visuals are almost as good as tasting, and calorie-free. Jess is a wife, a mom, a math teacher. She wears as many hats as most of us do, but tops it off with a baker’s hat. Read her story here. I’m just saying that if you were born with a “pie thumb”, it’s a sign. And the world is holding their cuppas and waiting. For pies. On your front porch, Jess.

Now, I’ve been known to exploit the mason jar epidemic back in the day, as you recall. I will never eat a salad in a jar. But Pie-in-a-Jar, as she puts it, is as exciting as it sounds:

  • They’re pies. In JARS.
  • They’re so super cute.
  • What’s better than a slice of pie? A whole pie to yourself.
  • What’s more socially acceptable than eating a whole pie? Eating a whole mini pie.
  • What’s easier to transport than a jar with a lid?…Nothing.

To enter your name in the drawing, please make a comment in the Message box, below. You have until Sunday, December 8th, 2019, at midnight to add your comment. On Monday, into the sorting hat you’ll go and the lucky winner will be announced the 10th.

The winning Pie-in-a-Jar will be a Five-Spice Pear-Apple Pie from Ken Haedrich’s pie cookbook, because she just bought a big fresh jar of five spice powder – the one alluded to in the Butternut Squash pie in her latest post, here. This is how the story begins, and this is how the story ends.

You really, really, want to be a part of this story. I mean, these things inspired poetry!

Stay tuned, ya’all. Even if you don’t win, you’ll win. Next week I’ll post the recipe, links, and more festive pie fun so we can all raise a cuppa together.

 

Zoppe: What’s in a Circus?

It isn’t every day you see a guy swinging through the air from a cable attached to his man-bun. But if you do, you’re either at a frat party or the Zoppe Circus.

Zoppe Circus, since 1842

In our continued quest to put a dent in our bucket list, Hubbs and I snagged tickets when a small, Italian family-run circus came to town. Believe it or not, neither of us have ever been to a circus before. Maybe it’s the idea of creepy clowns getting up in my personal space, or the sure understanding that, in case of fire, we’d be trapped like rats in a plastic casserole. My cynical side questioned whether a generation of smartphone junkies would be impressed with real-life danger. Or if, in an age where most circus icons have become politically incorrect, there was anything fun or fascinating left in the tent.

We followed the crowds into the bleachers: dubious affairs made of planks strapped together with rope. An elderly couple sat on the top row, the lady holding a balloon animal and the gentleman enjoying his cotton candy, oblivious to their peril. They either knew what they were doing or no longer cared. So we sat at the very top, too. The show began.

Arial acrobatics, cantering horse tricks, jugglers, accordions. And a clown called Nino. He pulled people from the audience with the single purpose of public humiliation. Did you cry in McDonalds when Donald er, Ronald came around handing out hugs? Yeah.

Nino was all fun and games until the intermission. He disappeared into the crowds and I was just starting to relax when he materialized in front of our seats with a tray full of popcorn, frowning right at me. He ascended, speaking clown words, and gesturing wildly.

Who wore heels to the circus? That’s right. I did. I reached down for my secret weapon when the man next to me stood up and reached for Nino. “Get him!” I thought, ducking.

But the man was shaking Nino’s hand and speaking more clown words and I was about to bolt for the exit when he turned to me and said in perfectly good King’s English, “We know him, we follow his act. Want some popcorn?”

Nino smiled and offered me the tray. There was both challenge and laughter in his eyes, and something familiar that I couldn’t quite identify. I thought about it as I munched my way through the rest of the show.

Who runs away and joins the circus? I considered the qualifications:

Can you touch your toes?

Do you look good upside down in spandex and could you shoot a bow and arrow with your toes if you had to?

Are you afraid of heights?

Can you flip a pancake or toss a pizza?

Are you okay with being a human piñata?

Can you balance school, work, home, and clowns on a regular basis while everyone is watching?

It was a startling moment when I realized that all of my answers to these questions were “Yes”! Turns out, I own a circus. I have five monkeys. I still work for peanuts. And Nino knows it.

The evening ended with a standing ovation. The performances were fun, but their demonstration of solid teamwork, cooperative hustle, and unflinching trust earned my respect. It gave me hope that – with a lifetime of practice – even my family circus can do it. Bravissimo!

San Diego Cinderella

On our Italian tour last year, we took trains from La Spezia to Genoa to Milan to Venice, passing Verona on the way. This week for our anniversary, we followed our hearts back. Longing for piazzas, basilicas, and doumos, we decided to revel in the balconies and tombs of Verona and, consequently, the passion, the pageantry, the drama, and the death that is Romeo and Juliet.

I may have mentioned: Italy feels just like home.

I’ve never been to Balboa Park’s Old Globe Theater. Like a star-crossed lover, I always passed by offering terms of endearment and wistful looks but never stopped to embrace it. It was easy to be seduced by Shakespeare. I painted my toenails in anticipation.

I wore the same dress – strictly for the memory – that I wore to the opera in Sorrento. Remember that night? So does my dress. But alas, the pink stilettos from that adventure are no more for this world. I wore the understudy for tonight’s trip to Verona.

Our first stop of the evening was a romantic restaurant on the harbor. I sipped sangria, nibbled chicken salad, and watched the pretty boats sail by on the late summer breeze. In case this was not enough to set the stage, a fat pale moon rose slowly over the San Diego skyline as the sun began its descent in the west. Our waitress presented creme brûlée, a delicately crisped, creamy concoction that curled my toes. A lot. More than average, apparently.

Hand in hand, Hubby and I sauntered from the restaurant, admiring the tiki torches, admiring each other.

“Clomp, clomp, flop,” went something on the sidewalk.

“Flip, flap, flop,” went the next three steps.

And then, without provocation, one of my shoes decided to throw a fit. “I bite my thumb in your general direction sir!” cried my right shoe.

And in the very next step, the entire bottom of my shoe flew off. Off. The valets and restaurant patrons might not have noticed, had I not burst into hysterical laughter. I had to decide: stop in the middle of the sidewalk and retrieve the errant brick or continue to the car walking like I was on a carousel ride.

I guess I did both. Safely tucked into the car, with no time to spare, we drove to the theater weighing our options. Now, I’ve heard rumors that some ladies keep spare shoes in their cars. They probably keep spare feet in their cars. I am not that lady. Neither do I keep crazy glue nor pliers in my glove compartment. Um, or gloves, now that I think about it.

“What should I do? Can I sneak in barefoot?”

The light turned red. A train went by. Another sigh for Italy escaped me, and we kept driving.

“There’s nowhere to park,” said Hubby, “It starts in ten minutes and we haven’t gotten tickets yet!”

I was bent over what was left of the shoes, still attached to my feet, “Go for it,” I grunted, “we’re doing this!”

Looking neither to the right nor to the left, heads high, we hustled from the parking lot to the ticket stand to the entry to some nice seats…and only then did I take a breath and look down.

These were the ugliest flats on the face of the earth. I traced my finger over one thin strap muttering in Italian. The bright moon rose overhead, lending its glow to the outdoor theater lights, illuminating the stage of Verona. The stage comprised of…a sandbox? I flipped through the program.

Apparently, this year’s director envisioned Shakespeare’s tragedy in sand.

All of the actors were costumed to their ankles, and…barefoot. The beautifully talented Juliet sang a rousing rendition of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. Teenagers brawled in the alleys. Adults marched around telling everyone what to do. Romeo slumped along with his guitar declaring that without his true love, life – hallelujah – wasn’t worth anything at all.

The main characters get married whilst still children.

Nobody really relaxes until they’re dead.

And nobody can figure out what all the fighting was about.

Like I said, Italy feels just like home.

As we gave them a standing round of applause, I recalled my wobbly circumstances. What was a pair of shoes measured against an amorous tryst under an enchanted moon? An embrace on the balconies of Europe with Prince Charming?

Prince C hazarded a quick look at my feet and grimaced as a very unromantic thought escaped.

This dazzling night was going to end where all good affairs end: a serious flirtation with a new pair of glass slippers.

Tiki

San Diego at the harbor

Spreckles organ pavilion

Museum of Art

Old Globe Theater

Romeo and Juliet

Sandbox?

Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

From a Certain Point of View

There comes a point in every writer’s week where the print is overpowering, or the words lie insipid on the page like a wilting peony from yesterday’s luncheon. A time where you just can’t slog it alone anymore and fresh inspiration is welcome, even if it means leaving your padded cell desk for the company of other writerly souls in *gasp* public.

In addition to my classes and casual conversations in Point Loma, I’ve discovered a little writer’s meet-up group closer to home. They converge on a coffee shop every Thursday night, throw out a prompt, set a timer for 30 minutes, and off we all go into the sunset. When the bell rings, we take turns reading our bits aloud, enjoying the huge variety of styles, thoughts, and grammarly gymnastics that are spawned by the prompt. It’s just for fun.

Last week, the prompt was, “From a certain point of view”, originally pulled from Obi Wan’s explanation to Luke Skywalker about why he’d “lied” about Luke’s dad being dead. Yeah, rubbish. But we don’t have any rules about opinions, so our examples of perspective were interesting, as we took turns reading around the table.

There was a sad story told in a positive way. An ugly character turned out to be the protagonist. Mine, of course, was a play on the audience. You know I’ve been pulling the twist on you for the last two of blogs (lol). This exercise and it’s results turned out to be a surprising peek into what is lurking in our own assumptive subconscious.

Here is the piece I wrote for “From a certain point of view”. Read it out loud for full effect, because it’s a monologue.

“Maybe you want the soup?

Can you eat it yourself or do you want help?

Here’s a napkin for under your chin.

Let me lift the spoon with you…there, that’s tasty, isn’t it?

It’s one of my better recipes, nice and smooth.

So good for you too, lots of pureed veggies.

Uh oh, there’s the phone. I’ll just be a minute.

Sit right there and wait for me.

What, I can’t turn my back for a minute?

Where have you thrown the spoon?

Look at this mess. Here, I’ve got it. There we go.

How much have we got left? Not much. Here, eat this laaaast bit.

Well done.

Shall we get ready for a nap now? I know I could use one!

Up we go. I’ve got you. Aren’t you getting so strong!

Lift your arms, up and up and up…

Where’s that quilt?

Look how nicely it brings out the blues in your eyes.

So soft. Settle in now, there we go. Let me pull the shades.

Now sleep, my love, and I’ll be in to check on you in only a minute.

Rest tight!”

I read this aloud to the group in as neutral a tone as possible. Then, I asked them to tell me what point of view they, themselves, had chosen as an interpretation tool.

You see, this could have been me addressing my happy eight month old child. Or, this could have been me addressing my silent eighty year old mother who has dementia. Was I a nurse, working with a paraplegic teenager? Was I Annie Wilkes speaking to Paul Sheldon? Was I a doctor in Luxembourg assisting a suicide?

For all you know, without context, this is someone with schizophrenia speaking to herself. Hey, as a mom, I have those kinds of days where I have to talk myself into eating and taking a nap.

It was funny to hear the ideas and discover what a wide range of possibilities the group came up with, and perhaps you came up with your own. I’m also curious whether, as your own point of view colored in what you thought you were reading, your tone of voice changed to fit it?

It’s important to remember that, although writers can create a message – sometimes as clearly as they possibly can – everyone else reads it through the lens of their own colored glasses. A good writer will capitalize on the reader’s assumptions and take everyone for a ride.

Lamborghini or Chevy? Even then, you could be surprised.

Meteors, Grunion, and Other Unicorns

I’m lying on my back on the new outdoor deck we built this year (by “we”, I mean “Hubby”), staring real hard at the night sky. The Perseid Meteor Showers are on this weekend because my recurring calendar says so, and after years of trying to locate it, I have to say, “Bah, humbug.”

They don’t exist.

Not in the Star Wars fantasy that I’m imagining it to be. I’m expecting a version of lightspeed proportions and the stars are just sitting up there, laughing at me. And that’s okay. The air is cool for August and the little chorus of frogs in the creek have gone to bed, replaced by the occasional screech from an invisible owl. The kids, knowing full well that they can’t control the heavens via remote control, went to bed and I feel a little disgruntled only because these are the same guys who insisted that grunion are worth staying awake for.

And grunion aren’t real, either.

A grunion run by the light of a full moon, traced by following Instagram commentary at 1am on a warm summer night, is a fun way to entertain guests. These elusive little silvery fish swarm random beaches to spawn and if you have a fishing permit, you can catch the buggers by hand and put them in a bucket. What you are supposed to do with them next is anyone’s guess, but it doesn’t matter, because no one buys a permit because no one is ever going to find a grunion, let alone touch one, and you spend the wee hours of the morning running from beach to beach with a flashlight and end up at an IHOP getting coffee because it’s the only thing open.

Is that a meteor? No. It’s an airplane. It must be lost. Could be a satellite, maybe.

When I was a kid, I sat up one Christmas Eve, staring out the window, desperately trying to convince myself Santa was real and knowing full well he wasn’t. But, presents. So when a plane went by, red light blinking, I said, “Well, there you go, he’s on the job.” And that would’ve been that, except for after another couple of minutes, an actual UFO went by, defying categorization, and years later, I wonder if it was a Stealth Bomber. I mean, we’re in San Diego.

It’s as possible as the owl that just crossed overhead, a deep black shadow beneath a paler black sky. Massive, silent, beautiful.

Not Santa, so much.

I had a conversation with my kid in the car the other day, and mermaids came up, purely in a scientific way. I mentioned that it was more possible that unicorns were real than mermaids and proceeded to explain the whole lung vs gills issue, followed up with what I thought was an obvious flaw in the system: they must be a fish and only mammals have hair. A real mermaid would have gills, no hair, no nose, and bugging out eyes on the sides of a flatter head. Maybe we’d driven past a Starbucks. The image wasn’t pretty.

This is why my kids don’t hang out with me.

There. That had to be a meteor. It went by fast, over there, in the corner of the sky where I wasn’t really watching. But something moved. Or I blinked. It could have been a shooting star. Oh, whatever.

But a unicorn, that works for me, because my daughter does the tours up at the Safari Park and everyone knows that the scimitar oryx has the body and horns of a unicorn, when it turns sideways, just so, or maybe loses one horn in combat. I’m pretty comfortable with a unicorn myth.

Well, it’s so far past my bedtime that I should start my morning laundry. My back and neck are getting tired.

Wait. What was that? Over there? Oooooooooohhhhhh………

See?